Photo by Getty Images/Chengyuzheng
The Ewe people number between 3 and 6 million, mostly living in Southeastern Ghana in the Volta Region and also southern parts of neighboring Togo and Benin. While Barbara Baëta can and does prepare dishes from all ten regions in the country (and far beyond), she is an Ewe woman and her heart belongs to places like Keta along the coast. On her own table, she displays a love of dishes featuring the riches of the sea and coast along with dishes including cassava dough, such as Akple, the Ewe version of Banku. It is my understanding that the main difference between the two is fermentation and the cassava dough (Banku is mostly made from fermented corn dough and some cassava dough in Ghana, though I usually make by Banku with just the fermented corn dough; Akple is made from unfermented corn dough and cassava dough).
Here is my approach to creating the cassava dough. Finding fresh cassava is the first challenge. It is a root and will likely be called yucca in U.S. markets. It does not keep well and will probably be coated in wax. Ask someone in the produce department to cut a few tubers in half before you buy them to make sure they are not rotten.
- 1 pound tubers of fresh cassava/yucca
- Peel the cassava and drop them in some water. To peel: cut the ends off, cut the cassava root in half at the center, and then use a sharp knife to peel back the dark bark and remove it. If you also cut the pieces horizontally, you will see a stringy piece running down the center of the cassava. Pull it out or grate it along with the rest of the cassava.
- Grate the cassava into a clean bowl. I use the "fine" side of a box grater. You should end up with around 2-1/2 cups of grated cassava.
- Put the cassava in a nonreactive bowl (glass, plastic, stainless steel) and add a half cup of water and swish the cassava and water around with your fingers or a spoon.
- Drain the wet mixture. My strategy is: put the grated cassava into a clean pillowcase and double it over, then place the pillowcase on a latticed patio chair or similar surface outside with a plastic pan under it to catch the starchy water draining out. Put a paper towel between the chair and pillowcase). Then place a bowl weighted down with rocks on top of it, and leave it outside in warm, dry weather (a garage would be an alternative). Not elegant, but it works.*
- After 2 or 3 days, you should have a dry, tightly pressed together clump of cassava. Place 1 cup of water (or more, if necessary) and the cassava in a blender, and blend to a smooth dough/paste. This dough may be used immediately or frozen.
*This process is awkward and cumbersome (which is why I don’t usually make my own), but the toxins in cassava, and the need to weight it down heavily and allow the liquid to drain out, mean it isn’t something I’d do in the kitchen. To avoid the mess, one should just buy frozen cassava dough, if available.
More from The Ghana Cookbook:
- Fermented Corn Dough Recipe
- Banku (Stirred Fermented Corn Dough) Recipe
- Ga Kenkey (Steamed Fermented Corn Dough) Recipe
Cover courtesy of Hippocrene Books
Excerpted with permission from The Ghana Cookbook by Fran Osseo-Asare & Barbara Baëta (Hippocrene Books, 2015).